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sgg - University of Utah · PDF file hundred yards the woods swallows me up, and there is nothing to remind me of human society-no trash, no stumps, no fence, not even a real path.

Apr 21, 2020




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    Copyright O 2002,1990 by Robert Finch and John Elder k Trade edition published as Nature Writing: The Tradition in English. I ,411 rights resewed Printed in the United States of America

    Since this page cannot legibly accommodate all the copyright notices, pages 11 37-1 146 constitute an extension of the copyright page.

    The text of this book is composed in Electra with the display set in Bemhard Modern Composition by Tom Ernst Manufacturing by the Haddon Craftsmen, Inc. Production manager: Julia Druskin

    t ISBN 0-393-97816-8 (pbk.) W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 161 11)

    W. W. Norton & Company. Ltd., Castle House, 75/76 Wells Street, London

    3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

    PREFACE INTRODUC~ON I N T R O D U ~ O N to the 1990 Norton Book of Nature Writing GILBERT WHITE (1720-1793)

    From The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne HECTOR ST. JOHN DE CR~~VECOEUR (1735-181 3)

    From Letters from an American Farmer From Sketches of Eighteenth century America

    WILLIAM BARTRAM (1739-1 823) From Travels Through North & South Carolina,

    Georgia, East & West Florida, . . . ALEXANDER WILSON (1766-1 8 1 3)

    From American Ornithology; or, The Natural History of the Birdsof the United States

    JOHN LEONARD KNAPP (1767-1845) From The Journal of a Naturalist

    DAVID THOMPSON (1 770-1857) From David Thompson's Narrative of His Explorations

    in Western America, 1784-1 8 12 DOROTHY WORDSWORTH (1771-1 85 5)

    From Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth MERIWETHER LEWIS (1774-1809)

    From The Journals of Lewis and Clark CHARLES WATERTON (1 782-1 865)

    From Wanderings in South America, the North-West of the United States, and the Antilles

    JOHN JAMES AUDUBON (1785-1 85 1) - From Ornithological Biography

    JOHN C y ( 1 7 9 3 - 1 8 6 4 ) . . The Natural World From The Natural Hietory Prose Writings of John Clare

  • 1120 Bill McKibben

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    >* -5 BILL McKIBBEN

    Bill McKibbenls The End of Nature (198;1) has earned a place in the great prophetic tradition of American environmental writing, along with George Perkins Marsh's Man and Nature and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. He warns _- _._______ his readers oahe prim k n g r s ~osed to life on earth by gkbal -c$iian~hange~nd L d o c u y t s the r e l a t i o n s h i f i ~ ~ ~ ~ c h s e . and_ o ~ ~ ~ d j c t i , o n . to. the .&&&alald~1stion-&ee More

    ,,a .C cbrodly, McKibben confronts the reader with an assertion that the tradi- , + tional idea of nature as "a world apart from man" is no longer viable and

    examines the psychologicat and ethical consequences of =end of nature." Like Carson's, his book was immediately criticized by esthb- ..-- lished economic interests; like hers, his ecological conclusions have been vindicated by continuing research in the field. As McKibben continues to call attention to the issue of climate change, he has also explored positive alternatives to our society's wasteful and destructive practices. The Age of Missing Information (1993) contrasts the historically and. sensually impoverished realm of television with the good news offered by the natu- ral world. In Hope Human and Wild ( ~ q g ~ ) , he reports on three places, in Brazil, India, and the Northeast of the United States, where cornmu! nities have made positive choices and where there has been an increase of ecological stability.


    Almost every day, I hike up the hill out my back door. Within a hundred yards the woods swallows me up, and there is nothing to remind me of human society-no trash, no stumps, no fence, not even a real path. Looking out from the high places, you can't see road or house; it is a world apart from man. But once in a while someone

    The End of Nature (New York: Random House, 1989).

    From Tk End of Nature 1121

    will be cutting wood farther down the valley, and the snarl of a chain od saw will fill the woods. It is harder on those days to get caught up in rU;O$tc the timeless mean in^ of,the forest, for man is nearby. The sound of the - chain saw doesn't blot out all the noiserdf the fdest or drive the ani- mals away, but it does drive-away the feeling that you are in another, separate, timeless, wild sphere.

    Now that we have changed the most basic forces arbund us, the noise of that chain saw will always be in the woods. We have changed the yhb, atmosphere. and that will change -the weather.Ilhe$emperature and * ' ~ K Q , , ~ rainfall ate no longer to be entirely the work of some,separate, unciviliz- 3 able force, but instead in part a product of our habits, our economies, our ways of life. Even in the most remote wilderness; where the strictest laws forbid the felling of a single tree, the sound of that saw will be clear, and a walk in the woods will be changed-tainted-by its whine. T>h yorld outdoors will mean m&.he same thing as the world.indoors* the hill the same thing as the house.

    An idea, a relationship,.saqo extinct, just like- a ~lant . ex+ The idea in this case is "nature," the separate and wild province, the e.$ * o n

    world apart from man to which he adapted, under whose rules he was t ,; born and died. In the past, we spoiled and polluted parts of that nature, inflicted environmental "damage." But that was like stabbing a man with toothpicks: though it hurt, annoyed, degraded, it did not touch vital organs, block the path of the lymph or blood. We never bu&&atwe had wrecked nature. Deer, - down. we -oug-d it was too big and too old; its forces-the wind, the rain, the sun -were too strong, too elemental.

    But, quite bp accident, it turned out that the carbon dioxide an other gases we were producirlg in our pursuit of a better life-in suit of warm housesiand eternal economic growth and of productive it would free most of us from farming-could altdr the who4 power of the sun, could increase its heat. And that increase could w c ' 4 change the patterns af moisture and dryness, breed storms in new places, breed deserts. Those things may or may not have yet begun to happen, but it is too late to altogether prevent them from happening. We have produced the carbon dioxide-we are e n d i w .

    We have nqt ended rainfall or sunlight; in fact, rainfall and sunlight may become more important forces in our lives. It is too early 'to tell exactly how much harder the wind will blow, how much hotter the sun wit1 shine. That is for the fiture. But the meaning of the wind, he sun; the rain-of nature- has already changed. Yes, the wind still blows- but no longer from some other sphere, some inhumanplace. 3 ' J

    *'In the summer, my wife and 1 bike down to the lake nearly eneey

  • 1122 Bill McKibben

    afternoon for a swim. It is a dogleg Adirondack lake, with three beaver lodges, a blue heron, some otter, a family of mergansers, the occasional loon. A few summer houses cluster at one endJiut mostly it is sur- rounded by wild state land. During the week we swim across and back, a trip of maybe forty minutes-plenty of time to forget everything but the feel of the water around your body and the rippling, muscular joy of a hard kick and the pull of your arms.

    But on the weekends, more and more often, someone will bring a boat out for waterskiing;,and make pass after pass up and down the lake. And then the whole ,experience changes, changes entirely. Instead of beinq a-forget e v e h i n g but yourself, and even yourself except for the muscles and the skin, you must be alert, looking up every dozen strokes to --+

    see where the boat is, thinking about what you will do if it comes near. It is not so much the danger-few swimmers, I imagine, ever die by Evinmde. It's not even so much the blue smoke that hangs low over the water. It's that the motorboat gets in your mind. You're forced to think. not feel- to think of human society and of ~ e o ~ l e i The lake is utterly differ-

    $?), =these days, just as the plaxet is utterly different now. 0 0 0

    I took a day's hike last fall, walking Mill Creek from the spot where it runs by my door to the place where it crosses the main county road near Wevertown. It's a distance of maybe nine miles as the car flies, but rivers are far less efficient, and endlessly followpmtless, ti - '

    >?'' *)mica1 meanders and curves. Mill Creek cuts s i m x ; ures, and so I was able to feel a' bit exploratory-a budget Bob Marshall. In a strict sense, it wasn't much of an adlenture. I stopped at the store for a liverwurst sandwich at lunchtime, the path was generally downhill, the temperature stuck at an equable 5 5 degrees, and since it was the week before the hunting season opened I didn't have to sing as I walked to keep from getting shot. On the other hand, I had made an arbitrary plan-to follow the creek-and, as a consequence, I spent hours stumbling through overgrown marsh, batting at ten-foot saplings and vines, emerging only every now and then, scratched and weary, into the steeper wooded sections. When Thoreau was on Katahdin, nature said to him, "%never made this soil for thy f e e a s air for ihy breathing, these rocks for t h y - neighbors. I cannot pity nor f o n d k th

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